Somewhere, it is written in the great Sci-Fi Handbook that every science fiction story—be it film or TV series—must under penalty of cancellation look at least a little bit like Blade Runner. Them’s the rules, and it’s certainly a law that Youtube Premium’s new series Origin sticks to in its first episode. But the hodge-podge doesn’t quite end there; in the two episodes I watched, both directed by Resident Evil franchise-driver Paul W.S. Anderson, the show’s inspirations are so very clearly gleaned from everything like Alien and The Thing to much more recent entries like The Cloverfield Paradox—a very bad movie that at least looked very cool—to the flashback-driven, twist-filled storytelling of Lost. In a bit of on-the-nose title irony, Origin fails to bring anything original to the table. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. The series might be a patchwork blanket of bigger, better franchises, but in the cold vacuum of space a patchwork blanket of alien body-snatchers and sci-fi twists will still keep you warm.
Created, written, and executive-produced by Mika Watkins (Dixi), Origin is a large ensemble piece set inside the ruined wreck of a deep-space transport ship. It’s the distant future, and a company called the Siren Corporation is hard at work colonizing Thea, a far-off planet capable of sustaining human life. A ship named Origin bound for Thea turns into a free-floating haunted house when several of its passengers wake up from their cryo-sleep early to discover their ship’s crew has deserted them, there’s a massive hole in the vessel, and anyone left alive is either going through limb-snapping body-horror transformations or warning of something inhuman that can “get inside us.”
Again, you don’t need a telescope to see the well-worn territory here. At this point, if you get put into an extended sleep for long-distance space travel there’s a 95% chance you wake up early to discover some alien horror or, worse, that you are starring in the 2016 film Passengers. But Anderson—who directed one of the best trapped-in-space horrors in history with Event Horizon—does craft plenty of highly-bingeable fun within those neon-paneled walls. The director often keeps the camera tight on the survivor’s sweat-stained, panicked faces, a constant reminder that there truly is no place more horrifyingly claustrophobic than space.
Unfortunately, those faces largely blend together. The setting is contained but this cast is huge, and Watkins’ scripts don’t do enough to make anyone stand out for anything other than surface-level reasons. Natalia Tena is the easy highlight as a former bodyguard named Lana, putting the intensity she showed in Game of Thrones to good use for a role that requires her to constantly be half a step away from losing her shit. Adelayo Adedayo quietly impresses as a survivor who basically only speaks in order to call other people a wanker, and Tom Felton—who has played a great dick since he was like 14-years-old thanks to the Harry Potter franchise—excels yet again as the group’s resident snarker. But the rest of the crew are painted with the same shades of scared and concerned, rendering most of them forgettable.
Oddly enough, the show’s flashbacks don’t really help to flesh anything out other than the comparisons to Lost. The pilot episode continually jumps back to a passenger named Shun’s (first-time actor Sen Mitsuji) time as a Yakuza member, while Episode 2 focuses on Lana’s career as a bodyguard; but both blasts from their pasts conclude in such similarly tragic ways that they amount to wastes of time. If one more flashback ends with a character getting someone they care about killed we might have to start worrying that the Origin is, in fact, a stand-in for hell and/or purgatory and that’s just not a twist we want to discuss at this juncture.
Overall, Origin is fine. It’s good, even! The twists come jarring and fast, the gooey, bone-bending body horror is wonderfully executed under the guidance of special effects supervisor Max Poolman (District 9, Dredd), and every episode so far—again, much like Lost—ends on a perfectly thudding cliffhanger that will usher you directly to the “next episode” button. But it could have been more. There’s a moment that even proves it could have been more. Deep into Episode 2, after a series of cheap, sudden-bang jump scares, Felton’s always-surly character yells “Can everyone just stop hurling themselves around corners?”
I love that. I genuinely love that, and it makes me think of a series that not only revels in the tricks and tropes of its inspirations but also worked a bit harder to subvert them. In a world ruled by comic book movies, the last thing we need is a by-the-books Origin story.
Origin premieres Wednesday, November 14, on Youtube Premium.